Monday, October 30, 2006

Upcoming Trip To Northern Germany

Our entire family is very excited about our upcoming trip to Northern Germany--even my oldest brother is excited, even though his work and his baby boy prevent him and his family from joining us.

My father has been to Hamburg before, but my mother and my middle brother and Josh and I have never visited Northern Germany. The closest we ever came was a train ride from Copenhagen to Cologne, on our first family vacation to Europe, many years ago, in the summer of 1991, when I was not quite eleven years old. However, on that Copenhagen-to-Cologne journey we never left the train, which traveled on a course West of the Hanseatic League cities on the Baltic Sea.

We have all been very busy, trying to decide how we will spend our time. We will use Hamburg as our base, and there are certain attractions in Hamburg itself that we have already decided to place on our itinerary.

At the top of our list is the Hamburg Kunsthalle, Germany's largest (but by no means finest) art museum. The Kunsthalle has a magnificent collection of Medieval ecclesiastical art from Northern Europe. It also holds a small but fine collection of paintings by Flemish and Dutch masters of the 17th Century. Of greatest interest to us, however, will be the museum's holdings of 19th and 20th Century German art, one of the finest collections of its type in the world. From early 19th-Century German Romantic painters to 20th-Century German Expressionists, the Kunsthalle is one of the great repositories of German art.

Caspar David Friedrich figures prominently in our decision to spend some serious time at the Kunsthalle. Not only does the Kunsthalle own the largest collection of Friedrich canvases in the world, but our visit will coincide with the most important Friedrich exhibition ever mounted, "Caspar David Friedrich: Inventing Romanticism", in which virtually all of Friedrich's major works, from all over the world, will be assembled, probably for the last time, in one place. In addition to Hamburg, there are three other cities with substantial holdings of Friedrich paintings (Berlin, Dresden, and Saint Petersburg) and those cities are all lending their Friedrich paintings to Hamburg. Even the handful of Friedrich paintings held outside Central Europe will be in the exhibition, including the Friedrich works owned by the Kimball in Fort Worth, the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, and the National Gallery in Washington.

We will love visiting this exhibition, and we can hardly wait to see such seminal works as "Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog" and "The Sea Of Ice". We shall probably have to visit the Kunsthalle several times, both to view the special exhibition and to view the permanent collection.

Hamburg has three other important art venues, two of which we plan to visit. One is the Bucerius Kunst Forum, which will be sponsoring a special exhibition about Cleopatra (the exhibition will include ancient statuary from Rome's many museums and paintings from several different collections) and the other is Hamburg's Arts And Crafts Museum, the German version of London's Victoria And Albert Museum. My mother will be in bliss, visiting all of these collections. She is a great lover of art, and a dedicated museum-goer.

There is one additional museum on our list: the Hamburg History Museum, a gigantic museum tracing the history of Hamburg and environs from the 8th Century until the present. Josh and my brother will love this museum, and my mother will love coming along, too, just to give everyone a break from all the art viewing.

We have already purchased, online, tickets for three different orchestral concerts to be held in Hamburg during our stay. The first is a concert by the NDR Orchestra Of Hamburg, to be conducted by Christoph Von Dohnanyi. The program will include Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony. The second is a concert by the Paris-based Orchestre Des Champs Elysees, to be conducted by Philippe Herreweghe. The program will include Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony and Schumann's "Rhenish" Symphony. The third is a concert by the Oslo Philharmonic, to be conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste. The program will include Mahler's Fifth Symphony.

I have never heard the NDR Orchestra of Hamburg, but I have heard the Orchestre Des Champs Elysees (in a concert in Edinburgh in 2002) and I have heard the Oslo Philharmonic (in a concert in Munich in 2003--and, again, in Mahler, playing the Ninth Symphony under Previn).

We will attend the Hamburg Staatsoper only once--my brother does not have a high tolerance for opera, nor, for that matter, does my father. To assure that we hear something my brother can sit through, we will attend a performance of "La Boheme". Hindemith's "Mathis Der Maler" and Wagner's "Parsifal" are also on the bill during our stay--as are "La Traviata" and Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"--but I don't think that my brother would enjoy any of those offerings, so we will happily forego them on his behalf. Myself, I would love to hear the Hindemith, as I cherish the Kubelik recording, but I suspect that I am the only one in the family who truly wants to hear that work, and I don't wish to impose it upon others.

Hamburg is a city of historic churches, and Josh and I have researched Hamburg's churches thoroughly (and we have even prepared a booklet about the churches for us to take with us, detailing their histories, architecture and art, organs, prominent treasures, etc.). We will be visiting eleven churches in the city, including all five main historic churches in the very center of town. We will climb the church towers and explore the church crypts and view the church art and study the church architecture and listen to the famous church organs during the weekly recitals. It will be great fun.

The large churches maintain fully-professional choruses and orchestras, and we will be able to attend services and hear full-scale mass settings incorporated into the services. We will enjoy this very much, too.

Still in the planning stages are our decisions about which nearby towns to explore via daytrips. Lubeck is an obvious choice, but other candidates are Stade, Buxtehude, Luneberg, Bremen, Bremerhaven, Rostock and Kiel.

Two weeks will not be enough time!

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